March week has come for the Class of 2017, and in a few weeks, we replenish the Officer Corps of the AFP with fresh faces.
This comes at a time when my own class is fast fading into the distance, though not in oblivion, as many have been appointed to key government posts to assist the new administration implement their monumental tasks.
And in my mind, I continue to think: what should this class know that they need not repeat the seemingly unexpected, though perennial twists that challenge the careers of many a career professional of the Officer corps.
We have been witness to many such occurrences – not just in my class but in the classes of many an upperclassman or underclassman friend. These are the contingent events that will present themselves to this graduating class and they will do well to recognize them to either confront them conclusively or prepare against the possibility of being overwhelmed by them.
Take for instance, the matter of “militics” – though the prospect of politics within any organization will always be present. It’s just that in the case of Philippine government institutions such as the AFP, it usually is more vicious, the effects severe and the damage can have long lasting repercussions. It has happened too many times to dear friends, no matter how diligent they performed their duties – the ugly head of self interests and collaboration because of it seems to prevail over meritorious service.
There are also other incidents which, in the past, affected the careers of classmates – such as near coups, political manueverings which either hampered a promotion or actually propelled it.
And there is fate, or destiny – wherein a spouse is compelled to make a choice to leave the country for better opportunities, and along with it, the untimely end of what could have been a “progressive military career”.
These are but a few of the many possibilities that will affect the graduates of 2017, as they have affected many in the classes that preceded them.
I like it though, when a dear friend (whose career was stellar at least – he retired with a few stars on both shoulders) had something poignant to say when we attended a boodlefight fellowship – one of the sagacious pronouncements he had to make was to advise underclassmen present to reconsider their service tenures in favor of starting new careers in the private sector.
In sum: “Hindi kayo aalagaan ng serbisyo. Tandaan niyo yan.” Many were pensive for the rest of the night.
In truth, he hit it right on the dot. For a military of 130,000 strong, there are just too many of the top brass, too few of the well trained junior officers (not to mention hardware) and for the past twenty or so years, retired officers have served well in various capacities in both government institutions and private sector. One of my close uppie friends – having caught the attention of the NGO community for his contributions during the Ondoy calamity – was absorbed by a housing NGO, and has done a monumental feat of rebuilding communities in the Visayas area for Typhoon Haiyan victims. Far better than the government housing group within the same time frame.
There are the career shifters – one went from a Naval officer to the finance sector in enterprise and did extremely well also. It’s not everyday that you get selected to head the Philippine Stock Exchange, after making the transition from sailor to executive.
How can I miss out on the bemedalled Army officer who was my plebe detail – being one of the last few officers to be decorated and receive a combat promotion on the Borromeo Field? He went on to a very productive career in the IT/BPO sector for a good period of time and is finally enjoying his career with “apostolic duties” to his grandchildren. I miss those times when we lived near each other to recall military history together – specially those times when he spent a straight eight years as a combat infantry officer in the Jolo-Basilan and Zamboanga areas.
One enterprising gentleman resigned his commission early due to the disgust with the martial law excesses, and finished quietly and well by managing golf courses both here and abroad. He now has this ambitious plan of straightening out traffic in his neck of the woods. I wish him well, though I also wish for his sanity to return after being exposed to the unnecessary stress.
What is lamentable in all this, sometimes, is that tunnel visioning career moves among classmates vying for positions throughout their careers have taken their toll on what used to be close friendships and supportive bonds among mistahs. It’s happened so much that you wonder if this is truly the norm instead of the exception.
If one were to take a long hard view of his career path in light of the lifetime ahead, and compare this to how things turned out for others that have gone ahead, one would ascertain that there indeed are viable alternatives – and they don’t have to be in uniform.
This is the matter that I would hope the class of 2017 would consider, in light of marching off to a new parade ground with new marching orders. I would never expect other people who did not spend a night in the barracks area to understand this. The military experience is unique – and without having undergone this, it is difficult to comprehend.
Perhaps Stephen E. Ambrose said it well in his book, Band of Brothers (made into a teleseries movie on HBO sometime ago), He says: “The result of these shared experiences (of Easy company of the 101st Airborne Division) was a closeness unknown to all outsiders. Comrades are closer than friends, closer than brothers. Their relationship is different than that of lovers. Their trust in, and knowledge of, each other is total.”
This is what must be cherished and upheld. And definitely, far more important than any ambition within any military career context. Because we will forever remain former members of the Corps and recalling the distasteful and unpleasant among ourselves is something we would be better off not having to do anymore.
Being a part of the Corps is still generally a good thing. And that cannot be taken away from any of us.
To those who are about to be dismissed from the Academy (albeit honorably and with the credentials) for good – congratulations and Godspeed on the next part of your journey!